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THE COOPER UNION MUSEUM
FOR THE ARTS OF DECORATION
In assembling materials and soliciting advice in connection
with the exhibition, the Museum is once again made aware
of the unfailing generosity of its friends in providing not
only objects needed to present an exhibition in its fullest
scope, but also in offering unstinting quantities of that even
more precious commodity, time. To all its friends, and
particularly to those who are a part of the present exhibition,
the Museum extends its grateful thanks.
Copyright 1961 by the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration
Vyrganized in honor of the annual meeting in New
York of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the
Museum's exhibition is presented concurrently with an exhi-
bition, "Preservation: the Heritage of Progress," especially
prepared by the National Trust and which, following this
initial showing, will be circulated as a traveling exhibition
by the American Federation of Arts.
The Museum has gathered a small but representative
group of objects associated with a number of individual sites
included in the National Trust exhibition, to accompany its
showing at the Museum, and the following lenders of these
are given special thanks for their generous assistance.
Casey Jones Railroad Museum, Jackson, Tennessee
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine,
Jackson County Historical Society, Independence, Missouri
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harris-
The James Monroe Memorial Foundation, Fredericksburg,
The Nation Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the
State of Colorado
Lenders to the Exhibition
American Institute of Interior Designers, National Committee
on Historic Preservation
American Jewish Historical Society, New York, N. Y.
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N. Y.
Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia
Elinor Merrell, New York, N. Y.
Ginsburg & Levy Inc., New York, N. Y.
Museum of the City of New York, New York, N. Y.
New- York Historical Society, New York, N. Y.
New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, N. Y.
Mrs. Samuel Schwartz, Paterson, New Jersey
Sleepy Hollow Restorations, Tarrytown, N. Y.
Staten Island Historical Society Museum, Richmondtown,
Staten Island, N. Y.
State of Illinois, Department of Conservation, Springfield,
The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities,
Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island
To Make the Restoration Live
The desire to re-create the atmosphere of a worthy site from
the past is a coraimendable one, for it springs from a wish to
conserve and record our nation's history and national style
for future generations. America's heritage is one for pride,
as it stands unique in time not only historically, but also as
a contribution to the world's social development and, most
important from the present point of view, for its evolution
of a recognizable national style. Each restoration provides
an opportunity to conserve some aspects of this heritage and
to comment on personages and attitudes of our collective
past, no matter how recent. A survey of existing restorations
of sites from the earliest colonial era to the recent past will
show an observer that even the most literally transplanted
ways of life were, through adaptation to a young culture and
through the diversity of cultural influences here, subtly
altered into an American way.
The concept of America as the world's melting pot, a
term happily coined by Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, ordi-
narily comes to mind in relation to the enormous population
expansion of the igth Century. But it remains perennially
the most concise descriptive term, for from earliest coloniza-
tion of that land which is now the Eastern seaboard of the
United States, a mixture of nationalities was accepted and,
except in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, frequently encour-
aged. As important centers of commerce, Philadelphia and
Newport provided the chance for a quick success to industri-
In the following pages, objects included in the exhibition are referred to by the
ous immigrants, whether English, Dutch, French, German,
Scotch from Scotland or by way of Ulster, Irish, Swedish,
Finnish, Swiss or Jews from Portugal. The Dutch settlers
of New York were tolerant of a diversity of national influ-
ences, and the social centers of the South with an economy
of agriculture and trade, were no less receptive.
The Colonies early set themselves apart from some aspects
of European societies. It was no less usual in the later 1 7th
century or early 18th century for an immigrant to rise in a
decade or two from a simple and often illiterate craftsman
to a position of wealth and prestige than in the mid- and
late 1 gth century. Indeed, with less competition in the earlier
times, such was the rule rather than the exception.
Commerce acted as a leveller of American society. It
fostered the notion of "every man as good as the next man"
regardless of his birth, and his success or failure depended
on his place in this commercial society. With an equitable
balance of agriculture and trade America avoided a peas-
antry such as Europe had always accepted as inevitable.
The crop planter in the South and the produce farmer in
Pennsylvania or Connecticut alike farmed for a profitable
market, and the world's goods were available to him in
return. America's ships sailed the world over, and necessities
as well as exotica were welcomed from whatever country
From earliest times an American style was established.
No transposition of a culture, such as that in the Spanish
colonies to the South, was possible in the English and Dutch
American craftsmen early provided furnishings made in
the image of remembered ones in Europe, though often with
a difference. There can be no doubt that the publication of
design books of the i8th century and the many "how to"
books of the 19th century was given spur by the demand in
this country. Books of designs by the famous furniture-
makers, Chippendale," Sheraton and Hepplewhite, found
their way to the new world, and were accompanied by a
wide assortment of anonymous books, such as the Chimney-
Piece-Maker's Daily Assistant, or, a Treasury of New Designs
for Chimney -Pieces ° published in London in 1766, which
certainly guided the local American craftsman. The 19th
century saw a fuller flowering of architectural and design
compendia, witnessed in the many works of A. J. Downing"
during the 1840's and Samuel Sloan° during the 1850's and
i86o's, dealing with the construction of cottages and villas,
and for interiors in Eastlake's Hints on Household Taste"
and in the many magazines such as Godefs Ladfs Book°
Such books, particularly those dealing with cabinet work
and architecture, were widely used by skilled craftsmen,
some of whom imparted a daring individuality to their works,
often with consciously artful results.
The craftsmanship of these men frequently has the quality
of the essence of the craft, which may have initially risen
from a conscious lack of pretension in adapting European
styles but which was translated into an American style that
suited a society concerned chiefly with an object's ability to
meet the comparatively rigid requirements of daily function.
It is thought by some that the chair of the style popularly
called "Queen Anne" as developed in the colonies in the 18th
century has of all chairs in time the ultimate in "chair-ness:'°
Side by side with the waxing of craftsmen in the colonies
the importation of the goods of the world went on imabated,
and there appears to have been no serious competition.
Europe and Asia were still the principal sources for ceramics.
Woven textiles of quality came from Europe, although simple
stuffs were woven at home. However, the cry of the high
cost of labor in this country is not new, and the technically
more complicated and burdensome crafts were left for the
cheaper labor of Europe and the Orient to provide.
A desire for the goods of a world market surely did not
originate with our American ancestors. Societies from earliest
times have placed much store by exotic merchandise. The
American style is set apart by its alliance of furnishings fine
in quality, whether imported or of domestic manufacture,
with a straightforward acceptance of the strictures of a life
lacking conveniences. Every outpost had houses of elegance,
yet all but a very few made a virtue of the practical and
This factor is of significant importance to those who under-
take the treacherous task of preservation and restoration,
for it persists in our cultiure even to the present. The osten-
tatious is still suspect, but can be accepted no matter how
outrageous if tempered with a practical rationalization.
There is danger in romanticizing. Our ancestors who
peopled these sites were extraordinary men in that they were
colonizers and immigrants. Certainly James Oglethorpe or
William Penn were considered eccentric among contempo-
raries of their social class. Comparable personalities from
the 19th century at the height of its production excesses,
men who had the courage of their convictions in building and
furnishing their homes and public places, are paid a meagre
tribute if their houses reflect no more to us than that they
were paragons of good taste. "Sunnyside," Washington Irv-
ing' s house on the Hudson, reveals in the quality of its
atmosphere the shaping of Irving himself, a sensitive man
with all the romantic virtues of his day; all factors, and
information about these component elements are available
to its restorers through a number of documentary sources. °
To make the restoration live: this is the problem — a prob-
lem most closely allied to that of the designer of settings
for a motion picture. The stage designer is farther removed.
His setting comes alive with the actor, and he plans it most
successfully when he removes all properties and furnishings
except those necessary for action or for visual emphasis.
The motion picture set designer, however, is frequently
called upon to propel the action. Frequently much of a story
is told by a vista, the crossing of a threshold, the survey of
a room, the camera focused on a still life of furniture, or
even an object. The appointments of such vignettes, whether
historical or evocative, from past times or the present, must
be convincing if the film has any pretensions at all, and the
amount of research involved is prodigious.
These research sources and techniques might well be a
help in the work of restoration, for a similarity of purpose
is apparent. But eventually the designer for film has an
actor as an ally which the restorer of an historic site does
not. Whatever the purpose, the task of undertaking to restore
a building of historic or esthetic importance is a formidable
one, full of many pitfalls, and important decisions are neces-
sary at the very outset.
It would be a relatively simple matter to consider only the
architectural aspects, and restore the exterior, for documen-
tation of so important a work as a building is usually readily
available. In addition, a building as such avoids the necessity
to associate it with human habitation since it provides enough
interest to a visitor through the statement and interplay of
its form and mass. But this is also true of a monument. The
desire to provide the drama of discovery impels those who
recreate houses of the past to restore the interiors in as much
detail as information permits or as uninformed fancy dictates.
The purpose of the restoration must be fully apprehended,
for any one site can provide many facets of interest; it can,
as example, at the same time be of historic and esthetic worth
and express characteristics of social position, geographical
locality and era. Whatever the category, however, it is desir-
able that its public be exposed to the evocation of another
time, and personalities and methods will vary as much
For each project by its nature is unique. It is through its
individuality that each restoration gives the best clues to its
nature. Research must obviously begin with the site. Vestiges
of what once existed are left, and a good researcher is re-
quired to know where to look, how to authenticate what is
found and when to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Such
relatively minor-seeming exercises as determining types of
nails° employed or the distinctions between "Dutch" and
"Colonial" bricks° can, as was achieved, for example, with
judicious care at Richmondtown on Staten Island, eliminate
basic errors at the start of restoration projects. Furnishings
in the building can frequently be documented through wills
and inventories as well as family records and papers of all
kinds that are part of every household and that often give
evidence in plenty. Then the interior itself provides telltale
vestiges of early condition. Fragments of wallpaper and
paint° sometimes are found imbedded in cracks around or
under moldings. Marks of incomplete removal of earlier
arrangements leave their useful evidence. ° If a radical resto-
ration is intended, and the additions of later times are to be
erased, stripping of the house to timber or brickwork in places
may be necessary to find clues.
Excavation by trained archaeologists has become a fre-
quent practice, particularly for the authentication of a large
site or complex of buildings. Much of interest can be learned
through this method about both the interiors and the environ-
ment, for if an old trash heap is found it provides a wealth
of information about objects used in the household — shards
of plates and kitchen wares, cast-off bottles and jars, nails
and hardwares, toys, lamps, buckles and tools, many of which
can be identified by comparison with known objects.^ This
is perhaps the first and most fundamental use restoration
projects make of museums, where the least fallible answers
to questions of date and provenance may be obtained. It is
revealing to know that British soldiers stationed in barracks
at the south end of Manhattan during the Revolutionary War
used salt glazed table wares° of the same stylish pattern as
that used by a prosperous and notable family in Tarrytown,°
as may be seen among the many shards excavated during
the restoration at Van Cortlandt Manor. Indications of a
family's thrift or of social position or its sentiment for long-
cherished possessions, can be had by recognizing that what
in one household would be thrown out because of damage,°
in another was repaired and treasured, witnessed perfectly
in a mended jug° to which was given a new silver handle,
elaborately supported by circular bands, and a chained silver
cover, prolonging its useful life.
Some mobile furnishings of a building are often found
either on the site, perhaps in a servant's room, an attic or an
outbuilding, or, if they were treasured pieces, with members
of the family. The contents of a house, dispersed at an auc-
tion, sometimes linger in its neighborhood for several gener-
ations. The more expendable, the more perishable, the more
fashionable, the meaner objects are those most likely to have
disappeared with changing fashions and modern improve-
ments. A consequent truism is that those buildings most
easily restored are from families with a tradition of conserv-
atism in living habits, a bit old fashioned in their time, not
easily influenced by foibles of the day and, for good measure,
meticulous in recording social and business events.
Once the artifacts, whether built in or movable, major or
trivial, have been inventoried, gaps will be apparent. It is
here that documents of all sorts become useful for although
it is beyond expectation that a household should be preserved
intact, written and pictorial records usually exist if any
legacy of household furnishings devised by will is left at all.
For example, the Alexander Papers," in the possession of
the New- York Historical Society, reveal through an invoice
the traffic in calico and silks in the second quarter of the 1 8th
century. Bills, inventories and correspondence frequently are
sources giving indications of missing furnishings.
But documentation comes from diverse and unexpected
places. At some point in the progress of the restoration on
the spot evidence is exhausted, and sources outside the con-
fines of the site are sought. Smrprising they sometimes are.
Specific details of the furnishings of a house have been found
in gossipy correspondence of visiting friends or relatives.
Such reports at times tell of the placement of furniture or
of the planting of a garden. Architectural plans and eleva-
tions, including plans for a drainage system,° for one of
colonial America's most important houses, Tryon Palace,
built in the late i8th century in North Carolina, came to
light after being preserved in the relative seclusion of a
private collection for almost two centuries. A tiny drawing^
by a young lady artist who recorded her holiday in the Cats-
kills with spirited and precise sketches served for the restora-
tion of outbuildings that had later been obliterated by an
additional wing to Washington Irving's "Sunnyside."
Such aids are rare, though, and frequently occur by chance.
Much more common is a partial indication of kind, color,
material or style with not much in addition, and here the
real detective work begins. Museums and libraries become
the allies of the researcher; his sources of authentication are
augmented immeasurably. Styles of window draping may
be found not only in books° contemporary to the desired
period, but as decoration on porcelain," on textile" or on wall-
paper." Specific examples are to be found in a cream pitcher"
and a French wallpaper" dating from 1860-70. Paint finishes,
graining, marbling, the design of window blinds or board
valances can be found in books," salesmen's sample cards"
and objects themselves. Fragments of ceramics, metal and
glass can be identified by comparison with whole objects."
Catalogues and advertisements, such as the 1830 advertise-
ment of Ball and Price Blind Factory" with a scene showing
the selling of stenciled valances, are a trove of information,
as are collections of tools. Design drawings are a good source
of help, for they frequently record the fashionable (hence
quickly unfashionable) tastes, give a sense of color prefer-
ence of a period without the distortion of fading (as actual
textiles, rugs and wallpapers will do), and often are dated.
With its colored engravings of contemporary interior fur-
nishings. Smith's Cabinet-Makers <& Upholsterer's Guide ° by
George Smith, London 1826, is the perfect example.
Research takes the restorer further and further into areas
of choice and herein is the most perilous part of the project.
The restoration will breathe, will provide an adequate sense
of reality, if such choices are judicious. However, care is
necessary that what is preserved is befitting to the site, and
not just a dramatic trick. Most difficult to overcome is a
desire to visit upon the restoration today's esthetic concepts,
for fashions in "good taste" change continually. One genera-
tion finds color combinations of blue, pink, orange and red
hues fashionable,^ while another considers only a studied
relationship of color acceptable. The fads and fashions of
another time are important indicators of direction, and the
more transient they have been the closer our contact with
the personalities whom they reflect. Curtains and valances
of paper,° such as those found on Long Island and now owned
by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiqui-
ties, somehow seem to make more specific personal comment
than do those composed of more customary cloth. Local fac-
tors offer another means of evoking a proper authenticity.
The demands of climate and geography sometimes provided
peculiarly regional methods of meeting them. So, too, with
ethnic or regional usages; they must be considered if for no
other reason than the proper atmosphere they contribute.
The Museum has chosen to suggest in its exhibition the
kinds of problems involved in the restoration of interior and
exterior environments, and research sources for their solu-
tions, in order to acquaint its public with the infinite nature
of restoration research and to suggest further research possi-
bilities to those who are already involved in the work of
preservation and restoration. The re-creations of sites of the
past are increasingly more thorough than at an earlier time
and less and less sentimentalized. But each project is such
an enormous undertaking that once the exhausting program
of architectural restoration is done, the environment, that no
less important aspect of restoration, becomes by weight of
effort secondary to the architectural problem, and is hur-
riedly and often insensitively re-created in such a way that
the result is little different from a department store's "period
rooms." Restoration has, surely, an obligation to look toward
COOPER UNION MUSEUM
COOPER SQUARE, NEW YORK
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